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Kuwait City

The morning was set aside for a "news prowl," cruising the streets looking for a story. Along with Styke and myself was producer Carol Cratty, an efficient, experienced producer out of D.C. She's used to chasing the President on a press plane, so for her a war zone is nothing.

We didn't find a story, but we had a fun and even interesting drive. Styke has an infectious grin and an unsuppressible (I think I made that word up--ed.) sense of humor, so he's always a pleasure to have around. And our driver Hamad had much to say. He amused us all when he pointed to a battered, deserted compound surrounded by a crumbling wall. "That's the Ministry of Ha-ha-ha Defense," he told us. The Defense Minister just happens to be the Emir's brother. "Yes, his defense lasted all of two hours," Hamad laughed sardonically. "A football game lasts longer."

Hamad at the wheel
Hamad at the wheel in Kuwait City
Later we passed a neighborhood on the edge of town that was the closest thing to a shantytown I had seen in Kuwait City. I had see plenty of homes that had been wrecked, but these were homes that were wrecks, a significant distinction.

"Bedoons," Hamad explained. Not to be confused with Bedouins, though I think the terms may be related.1 Bedouins, of course are the tribe of desert nomads with a long, proud heritage. Bedoons officially have none. They are people with no home, no country, no history. When the nation of Kuwait was formed, they were living on the margin of society and could produce no documentation on their right to citizenship. This was more than a generation ago, so now they exist as an institutionalized lower class. They fall even below the immigrant laborers from Asia, because those have a country to (theoretically) go back to. And they have none of the political standing of the Palestinians, who up until the invasion held a symbolic position as the victims of Zionist oppression.

This led to a discussion about the Palestinians in Kuwait today. Hamad was concerned that we felt he and all of the Kuwaitis were opposed to Palestinians now because of their support for Saddam. He emphasized that he did not hold all responsible for the actions of a few. We agreed with him that they had been duped by Saddam's pretended concern for them. "I embrace the devil himself if he promises me my homeland," Hamad remarked. He even told us of rumors that some retired Kuwaiti generals had collaborated with the invaders, providing lists of names of people to be arrested. This is more of a crime than much of what the Palestinians are accused of; as always, the poor get punished while the rich get promoted.

Fawzi in the Kuwait City bureau
We did find a story of sorts in the afternoon. The American ambassador joined the oil minister for a tour of a damaged power plant, about to be reactivated after hasty repairs. The event was a classic staged "photo op" with the two politicians pointing to the destruction and clucking their tongues, then hovering over the new equipment and nodding their approval. But it was a workout for all the camera crews, chasing the two with their phalanx of bodyguards through darkened corridors, across narrow catwalks, and down winding stairwells. I managed to thrash my microphone mount on my telescoping fish-pole, so I hurried along behind with the pieces I could gather.

Back at the office, I set about reassembling the contraption. I rebuilt a missing spring using the wire from a spiral notebook. A wad of gaffer's tape2 replaced the missing rubber shock absorber, and the whole rig was held together with a rubber band. It ended up looking like the homemade control panel the engineers had improvised to bring electricity back to Kuwait. But it works.

Unfortunately, much of our gear is showing the effects of long and hard use. Tape decks are swallowing reels of tape. One camera is putting glitches on the footage, making it a nightmare to edit. And our crews, too, are worn out. More people are leaving, so we'll be stretched thinner. We've got new producers coming in to take over, but they are definitely the second string and not used to the situation they'll find here. Things are winding down here, if not grinding to a halt, and it's time to think about getting myself home.

1Editor's note, 2011: I already mentioned there was no internet twenty years ago--but there is now. Google tells me that "Bedoon" comes from the Arabic word for "without," and "Bedouin" is derived from the word for "desert dweller." I was not even close.

2Editor's note, 2011: Gaffer's tape is Duct Tape of the Gods. No professional camera crew can function without it.

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© 2011 Chuck Afflerbach for The Hick Town Times